War Stories

Christmas in March

by Dave Crocker
March 1968

Christmas in March

50th Anniversary

March 1968

The day had finally come.

After spending a year in Vietnam I was finally on my way home to Port Huron, Michigan.

It was a long year with more ups and downs than a roller coaster.

I went from a green as grass new guy to a seasoned infantryman to a company clerk all in the matter of twelve months.

I lived through life and death situations on several occasions and now I was on my way home and praying that the plane wouldn't crash.

As the plane lifted off the excitement was overwhelming as everyone started throwing pillows.

My camera was no match for the bombardment of pillows.

The thought of those that didn't make it out alive and of those that were still there (including my brother Dan) that might not make it home was a thought that never left my mind and is still with me today.

We had to stop in Okinawa for a short layover where everyone could go inside for a couple hours if they wanted to.

Surprisingly deplaning while the plane was being refueled wasn't mandatory.

I had waited too long for this plane ride to get off now. I decided to stay onboard and just listen to some music.

A few minutes had passed when a buddy came back on and told me they had a nice shopping area that I might be interested in.

On my way to Vietnam I had spotted a real nice animated jewelry box on our layover at Clark AFB in the Philippines. This jewelry box had a wind up chime that played Sukiyaki, a very popular tune of the early 60's and I loved it. The little guy pulling a rickshaw was visible through a small window and he even lit up. The cost was only fifteen dollars.

I knew nothing about Vietnam and what storage facilities they had so I had to pass it up.

I figured I'd find it later on someplace where I could ship it home.

I had expressed to my friends that I've kicked myself in the butt several times for not buying it when I had the chance. I even tried to find it in Japan when I was there on my R&R back in October but nobody had it with the Sukiyaki chime.

My buddy was very convincing so I decided I'd go inside and at least look around for some more souvenirs.

To my surprise they had jewelry boxes and after searching and listening to a dozen or so I found one identical to the one I had seen in the Philippines that played Sukiyaki and still only fifteen dollars which was even more music to my ears.

I wasn't even sure of who I was going to give it to, maybe myself.

With the box securely wrapped and stowed in the overhead compartment I was ready for the rest of our 22 plus hour flight to the good old USA.

This flight on Northwest Orient was much different than our flight on United to Vietnam.

Going on United the stewardess were young and friendly and socialized with the guys as if to say we know where you are headed.

Coming back on Northwest Orient the stewardess were much older and not friendly with anyone at all. We classified them as old hags, kind of like that one teacher in school that some would refer to as an old battle axe.

We were wondering if they were part of the protest movement.

Originally it was believed that we'd be landing someplace in California but because of the ongoing unrest of the nation at the time it was decided that we'd be arriving very close to Fort Lewis, Washington at McChord AFB.

It was still daylight when we arrived at McChord and just plain great to see paved roads and expressways as we flew in.

Without question it was a wonderful feeling to kiss the ground as we all left the plane to board waiting buses for short ride to Fort Lewis Army Base.

At Fort Lewis we were greeted by a sign that read Welcome Home Vietnam Returnees and another that read Free Steak Dinner.

We all were advised to expect problems with protesters and to just be on the alert, especially if we were going to travel in uniform.

We were instructed where to go to receive our new issue of clothes and given a choice of Khaki's or Class A.

We were already in Khaki's so I chose new Class A to travel in.

I fought for that uniform and what it stood for and no protester was going to stop me from wearing it.

If I would have been spit upon like I heard so many were there would have been a real mess on somebody's hands. At five foot five and a half I'm not a big person but there are times when you just have to show what you are made of.

After surviving what myself and the guys with me had been through there is no doubt as to what the outcome would have been.

We all had earned that Free Steak Dinner and weren't about to pass it up but that would have to wait until I called my parents and let them know I was safely on USA soil.

My mother was so happy that I thought she was going to come through the phone.

She said that they are getting snowed in but nothing was going to stop them from picking me up at the airport in Detroit. I told her I would call again from Seattle once I had an arrival time.

I had prayed for some snow when I got home and told my parents that I had but I sure didn't want people to get snowed in or endanger themselves trying to pick me up at the airport.

As soon as we devoured the steak we boarded buses and headed to the Seattle airport for our standby flights to different parts of the country.

We were about an hour out of Chicago when the stewardess informed us that Chicago and parts to the northeast were under a heavy snow storm warning and that the flights that were continuing on to Detroit might be rerouted or delayed.

Even though I had hoped and prayed for snow when I got home I wasn't prepared for that punch in the gut when she said we might be delayed or rerouted because of it.

We landed in Chicago without any delay and after switching planes I was off to Detroit with a scheduled arrival time of 10 pm.

Sure enough, when we arrived in Detroit the snow was so heavy it was almost a white out.

After circling for a short time for the runway to be cleared we landed safely.

The plane had been scheduled for a certain gate but that area wasn't cleared of the snow so it was sent to another gate at the opposite end of the airport. That was fine with me as long as I was going to be able to get off in a timely manner at least that is what I thought.

As we approached the gate it was very dark.

When we worked our way down the makeshift walkway into the airport it was like we were in a deserted abandoned building. There were some chain link fence set up and construction type lights hanging but they were all turned off and there wasn't any heat. An occasional light about every hundred feet or so along the walkway lit the way.

Not one person in the area to meet us.

What a home coming I thought!

Then I come to my sensuous and realized that if anybody was there they would be waiting for me at the original gate so with a duffle bag full of everything I owned I began to make my way to the main terminal and then find the original gate while hoping that nothing happened to them on their way to the airport.

The unheated area aided in keeping the sweat down while lugging that duffle bag on my shoulder. I sure didn't want to be greeted smelling like a nasty locker.

After hustling through a construction zone for about fifteen minutes while opening and closing gates along the way I was finally greeted by my family coming towards me while still in the construction area.

Sure enough, they had been waiting at the original gate until they found somebody that knew where my plane was and how to get to it.

The new arrival gate was never posted, for obvious reasons I guess. They had ask the airport to make an announcement for me but there wasn't any sound system in the area where I was.

The happiness I felt was indescribable and I know they all felt the same way.

Once back out on the main roads there was one lane open with very little traffic which made for a good ride home.

After making a quick ride through downtown Port Huron we turned north onto Elk St from Pine Grove.

My house was dark until we passed MacPherson St.

Then all of a sudden the whole house lit up.

A huge lettered sign on the front of the house with a 2'X3' photo of me said it all, Welcome Home.

A lifelike snowman was built in the front yard with outstretched arms welcoming me home.

After all the greetings in the front yard we went inside to a house full of people.

One of the biggest surprises was an old paper route customer of mine and later a coworker at Mueller Brass, Ken Howard.

I felt so bad for him to have to stay up so late when I knew he had to be up early the next morning for work.

In the front room was a fully decorated 9' Christmas tree completely surrounded with gifts for many.

My family had delayed Christmas for me and I am forever grateful.

Christmas in March had come to life.